14 October 2005

?Withdrawal from Gaza. Yes - but still occupied in law.

The opera is over. The withdrawal of 8000 Israeli settlers and the Israeli Occupation Force from Gaza has happened. The youngsters have been savouring that feel of sand between the toes and sea washing over bodies for the first time in most of their lives. That curving line of gold and green had been excluded by gun and razor wire in almost all of its 35 kilometre length for 38 years – since the '67 war.

This is the most densely occupied piece of land on earth. There are 1.4 million Palestinian people there. About 2/3 are refugees in their own land, or the descendants of such; an essentially pastoral people from more northerly parts of 'historic' Palestine. There were 21 Israeli 'settlements', which along with military command/vehicle bases, occupied about 1/3 of the Gaza strip. So there is more room to stretch out and the internal checkpoint north of Khan Younis has been dismantled. No more long hours of queueing with all those wasted man hours and petrol. That 1/3 of the strip now freed (the total area of the 'strip' is 360 square kilometres) will be used to build apartments for the poorer people who live in squalid conditions in the 'camps' first started in 1948 when they were driven south. About 10% of this 'new' land is owned privately by farming families, who will probably wish to to keep it for horticultural use.

So all is now a bowl of roses? Most people who know little of el nakba say 'I imagine things are now much better there?' A month ago all hell was let loose with sound bombs, mock dive bombing by the very noisy F16s, shelling etc. Dr Serraj told of the terror in the children. This was in response to the unguided but potentially lethal Qassam rockets, which in turn were in response to the night time arrest of hundreds of activists in the West 'Bank' and a very lethal alleged attack by drone on an Hamas celebratory parade. As I write – on the 14th of October – there is quiet. Dr Khamis Elessi phoned me yesterday, and is more keen than ever that I come with others to set up a Dove and Dolphin medical educational centre. He spoke of a Swedish doctor only spending 10 minutes getting through the Erez checkpoint at the northern limit of Gaza (myself and Neil Young spent 5 hours there in October 2003). He said the Rafah crossing was open (untrue now) and there is stability. He did say that what was needed was 'democracy'; I think he meant law first.

More than 50% of potential wage earners are unemployed or too sick to work. Most of the population live on less than a dollar a day, say 70p. Over 100,000 labourers, stonemasons (they are excellent masons) etc used to travel north into Israel to earn precious shekels. Since the second intifada (shaking loose) – the Al Aqsa - which started in September 2000, that slowed to a trickle. But these people have skills, energy and pride. They want work. There is very little land on which to grow the staples like wheat and chick peas. A good deal of the food is imported from or through Israel by UNWRA for the poorer refugee families. This is where a sea port comes in. At present there is only a fishing port, and the life of that is limited because the fishing boats are stopped from fishing further than 8 kilometres from the shore by Israeli gunboats. A sea port was being built by a French firm, using Saudi money, but that was bombed by Israel (like the airport that was built with EU grants). A sea port would allow the export of goods manufactured in Gaza – like the excellent woven rugs of Sawaf, as well as the traditional export of fruit, flowers and other horticultural produce. It would allow the cheaper importation of food, medical supplies and all manner of other goods. People would be able to come and go, thus allowing the proper development of this part of the Palestinian nation.

The voyage of the D&D continues with a spurt here and some doldrums there. A good number of school uniforms were made by the Association of Young Muslim Women again. 6 stainless steel tanks have been made and installed at primary and secondary schools. A Kuwaiti charity is supplying the filtered and tested water. We have also had 3 water filters made for kindergartens. The 26 scholars continue to receive $30 per month. Nihad Taha has been a bit slow in giving us follow-ups on them, but the previous chaos has made steady work and communication difficult. The charity has a good balance to work with but the trustees have decided to hold on to that until we see that things are staying quiet. We have been hoping that Nihad will be able to travel here so that we can make plans directly with him.

Meanwhile I will consider whether we can advance the plan for a medical educational centre. I also hope to have some news of Wadi Foqin. Fahmi seldom responds to e-mails. He has problems in getting news back to us, as well as in keeping his spirits up, with encirclement threatened.